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Analyze all hands!

Jul 29, 2003 2:44 AM

In the recently completed World Series of Poker, professional player Howard Lederer remarked that he would rather play head-to-head with a professional than with an amateur because the amateur could be totally unpredictable in when to bet, raise, fold, call or re-raise.

And there’s the rub with the many theories about the correct method of poker play: Until someone can demonstrate with full computer analysis of every possibility, win percentage, and money win percentage, poker will remain a game where selecting the best play from a variety of choices will determine what constitutes good play.

And then you have to contend with the sometimes erratic play of amateurs! Many well-known writers espouse the system play as producing the best results, and in certain types of games, that system may be superior. The problem is that players and the fall of the cards do not always conform to the "typical." A good player must be prepared for all types of styles.

The easiest way to illustrate how a good player should prepare is to start with a system of play. In an average mid-limit hold’em game, playing the hand groups in position according to Sklansky’s Hold’em Poker may win.

However, when there are six people in every hand to the end no matter how many raises, this system will incur huge bankroll swings and leave the player totally frustrated. Why? Because the system assumes a certain response from the opponents that is not occurring.

A raise or reraise with aces does not automatically narrow the field thereby reducing the win percentage and viability of raising. Frustration arises because what is touted as "good play" is totally buried by opponents who just want to look at cards and do not care what it costs.

The blame does not fall on David Sklansky but on the reader who just wants the shortcut to good play. By taking the time to read Sklansky On Poker, one can begin to understand how the system was constructed. No one system will work for every situation. The best preparation a player can make is to analyze each hand for its winning capacity in different types of situations and be able to adapt to the fluctuations of the table.

Now don’t panic. Granted, the discussion sounds about as clear as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But how does some mid-level player alter what an expert thinks is good play and make it a consistent winner?

Each hand was placed in its rank because of its ability to win in a typical game. That "game" was modeled after the $10/$20 hold’em game in Las Vegas and usually involved two to three players seeing the flop. Therefore, pairs tended to go up in value and draw hands tended to drop in value.

High cards went up in value and lower cards went down in value. But that is not the case with every game. In games where there are a number of players seeing the flop, draw hands go up in value because they always have enough odds to warrant play while pairs go down in value due to the number of live cards left for players to draw out. High cards have some value but the average minimum winning hand is now two pair so a high kicker is not enough.

The point is that each game can be analyzed for the characteristics that will win. Just watch what types of hands win. Just because seven-deuce wins is not an endorsement. Two pair won, not seven-deuce. Rearranging the order of hand values from the standard play chart for the type of game will give a player an edge in selecting starting hands.

Knowing what to play and what to throw away in any type of game is not a bad edge, but learning how to play the hands is where the money is made. Do you want players to stay or go away?

For example, that pair of aces is still a good hand in multi-play but it does not have the same win percentages as it would heads up. Most players raise indiscriminately with aces because everyone says that’s the way to play.

The question to ask is: What is accomplished by raising? If the raise is to narrow the field, at a very loose table no one will fold so the raise is not accomplishing its purpose and a call might be better.

If the raise is to add more money to the pot, then the hand should be the type to benefit from multi-play; aces do not.

When each hand is analyzed this way, then a player will have a better idea how to adapt to the style of a game. If a player wants to be totally prepared, devise a chart similar to the grouping by Sklansky for each type of game. Then, not only is that player prepared to defend each hand in each position but can follow through as the board develops.